Florencia Montagnini

Senior Research Scientist, and Director, Program in Tropical Forestry, Global Institute of Sustainable Forestry.

Research Overview

Major activities

Research by faculty of the Program in Tropical Forestry and collaborators in tropical countries includes:

  • examining the restoration of degraded soils under pure and mixed plantations
  • estimating carbon sequestration by pure and mixed plantations with native species
  • measuring biodiversity of fauna and seed dispersal under pure and mixed plantations with native species
  • evaluating success of programs for Payments for Environmental Services (PES) as tools to promote restoration/rural development

Current research by Florencia Montagnini:

My overall research objective is to design restoration strategies for degraded forest landscapes in tropical regions, focusing on reforestation and agroforestry systems, with special emphasis on Latin America. We are currently conducting research in Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Colombia, Panama, and Mexico, thus covering a whole range of tropical ecosystems including lowland tropical rainforests, dry forests and savannas, and montane tropical and subtropical forests.

We are collaborating with local academic/research institutions in each country, such as the School of Forest Science and the National Institute for Agricultural Technology (INTA) in Misiones, Argentina; CEPLAC (Center for Cacao Promotion and Research), and the Center for Environmental Studies of the Michelin Company in Bahia, Brazil; CATIE (Tropical Agriculture Research and Higher Education Center), and the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) in Costa Rica; CIPAV (Center for Research in Sustainable Agricultural Systems) in Colombia;the Center for Tropical Forest Science (CTFS) of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institution (STRI), and the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) in Panama; and the National University of Hidalgo in Mexico.

In Misiones, NE Argentina, we maintain long term experimental settings consisting of pure and mixed plantations with native timber species on degraded land; enrichment of degraded secondary forest with native timber and agroforestry species; and agroforestry systems of organic commercial crops in combination with valuable timber trees. The Misiones forests are part of the Interior Atlantic Forests, an expanse of the highly threatened Atlantic Forest of Brazil. We are using the results of our long-term experiences in establishing new projects that investigate the use of native tree species to ameliorate environmental conditions in terms of soil and water quality, in various locations and in collaboration with several partners. We are collaborating with local farmers to integrate native tree species in organic farming including yerba mate, Ilex paraguariensis, a product that is sold as certified organic tea locally and internationally. We are studying soils and productivity in the organic farms, comparing with conventional monocultures of the yerba mate crop.

With colleagues from the School of Forest Science of the National University of Misiones, Argentina, we are collaborating with INTA (National Institute for Agricultural Technology) on a new “Program on domestication of native tree species for plantations and ecosystem restoration”. This ensures the formal incorporation of long term research results in a program that will promote their dissemination in Misiones and throughout the country as well.

In Bahia, Brazil, in collaboration with local Universities, CEPLAC (Center for Cacao Promotion and Research), and the Center for Environmental Studies of the Michelin Tire Company, we are examining alternatives for restoration of the highly endangered Atlantic Forest, using different strategies according to the degree of degradation found in the landscape. We are encouraging or accelerating regeneration of secondary forests using enrichment planting techniques when degradation level is intermediate; and, when restoration thresholds are too large, we are reforesting the lands with mixed plantations of native species. We have experiments in the Aracruz (Fibria) Company, Espiritu Santo, to replace eucalyptus plantations with native species,  using eucalypts as nurses for encouraging growth of valuable native tree species, planting native tree seedlings in contrasting environments: under the canopy of eucalypts, in association with eucalypts, and in the open.

In Costa Rica, we have long term research on the role of native tree species in reclaiming degraded areas with species of economic value. We have estimated biomass, carbon sequestration, harvestable volume; and economic returns of native tree plantations in mixed and pure plantations. We have also investigated biodiversity in mixed and in pure species plantations, and compared with abandoned pasture where no trees were planted. Our results show that these systems can be profitable alternatives for restoration of degraded pasturelands, providing useful economic returns as well as environmental services: carbon sequestration and biodiversity. Also in Costa Rica, in collaboration with CATIE we are conducting research on organic coffee with diversified shade trees, investigating the relationship between biodiversity, productivity, and soils.

In Panama, as part of PRORENA, the Native Species Reforestation Project, we are designing options for reforestation with native species, and reclamation of lands of the Panama Canal watershed which are invaded by aggressive grasses. Our most recent project in Panama is called The Native Timber Species Plantation Experiment (NTSP), which is part of the “Agua Salud” (Water/Health) project that studies the ecosystem services provided by forests within the Panama Canal Watershed. The Agua Salud project used the experience from PRORENA in establishing larger scale plantations with five native tree species in combinations of all species together and one to one mixed designs, as well as in pure plots. The objectives are to test the possible combinations in terms of species performance and ecosystem services, focusing on carbon sequestration, water yield and quality, and biodiversity.

In Mexico, in the state of Hidalgo we are conducting evaluations of forest ecosystem degradation and selecting tree species for restoration. This is a participatory research/dissemination project. Local communities participate in all activities of the project including nursery management and tree planting.